In the late summer of 2004, a seminary colleague and I pondered the possibility of another four years of Bush 43. The polls were very close, and it seemed highly possible that we could be faced with four more years of G.W. Bush, coupled with both houses of Congress under the Republicans. My colleague observed ruefully, "Perhaps unified Republican rule would be the best education for the people to see just how much they don't want it." Before I could respond, he added, "Though, I really don't know if we can afford four more years of Bush and a Republican Congress." It turns out he was right -- on both accounts.
One could easily bewail the manifold profligracy of the last incarnation of conservative rule, and what it will cost to recover from it. However, I focus my attention here on the extent to which Congress in general and the Bush presidency in particular have served to fuel an exodus from Bushian conservatism. It was Immanuel Kant who once wrote that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers, and in like fashion I rejoice -- indeed, give thanks to God -- for the extent to which many Christians have been awakened from the dogmatic slumbers of narrow moralism to a broader moral agenda, one more consistent with the one whose name we bear when we call ourselves Christians. So, I find myself in an odd place as a progressive follower of Jesus, giving thanks to God for a man generally viewed as the enemy of progressive Christianity -- G.W. Bush.
My thanks, though, would remain too abstract without some attempt to be more specific, and I readily grant that, at best, I am trying to find a silver lining in an otherwise profoundly dark cloud. Yet, it is hard to imagine any one thing that has contributed more to the transition of so many young Christians away from the narrow agenda of many of Bush's right-wing Christian enablers than a presidency that stands in such contrast with the values of Jesus. My good friend and Sojourners colleague Jim Wallis likes to express his puzzlement over how Jesus came to be seen as "pro-war, pro-rich, and pro-American." It is now obvious that under the excesses of GWB, many more have come to be similarly puzzled. What could stand more in opposition to our Lord's injunction to be peacemakers than the Bush doctrine of "pre-emptive war" -- unless it be his willingness to put the development and use of nuclear weapons back on the table? What could stand more in contrast to the values expressed by Jesus in the second half of Matthew 25 than the Bush penchant for tax cuts for the rich, tax cuts paid for on the backs of "the least of these"? What could be more opposed to the God-given obligation to steward the environment than "clean air" rules that worsen air quality, "clean water" rules that worsen water quality, the utter inattention to our dependence on non-renewable energy sources, and the propagandized denial of climate change? Finally, could there be any stronger expression of hubris vis-à-vis the rightful concerns of our global partners than Bushian unilateralism?
On the one hand, George W. Bush will leave a somber legacy, from which it will take years of our best thinking and acting to recover. We rightly bewail this legacy and, sadly, must to some extent own our complicity for allowing his "all fear, all the time" mantra to bewitch us. On the other hand, just as our deepest appreciation of the light often comes in the midst of the darkest hour, perhaps it took the darkness of Bushian conservatism to help us see its bankruptcy on Christian grounds. If this be the case, then maybe there will be one positive, lasting legacy of this administration: Perhaps, for a generation, we will not allow ourselves so easily to be distracted from the simple message of Jesus -- "Blessed are the peacemakers, care for the least of these, think first of the interest of others, love your enemies ...." May it be so.
Chuck Gutenson is the chief operating officer for Sojourners.